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Buckeye Beat: Reel Science

- [Mary] Exterior, desert in New Mexico, day. A New Mexico State police plane soars across the cloudless sky.


- But, they don't show New Mexico terrain. It, in fact, was filmed in Southern California, and I knew that terrain. Quiet. There we go. My name is Joe Hannibal, and I am the curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. I love movies. I like old movies. I like movies that have giant bugs in them, and I especially like the movie Them because it is the mother of all bug movies.


- [Announcer] There is no word to describe them.


- [Mary] In the seminal creature feature from 1954, giant mutant ants wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public. Humanity's only hope lies in the bumbling Dr. Medford, and his bombshell daughter both of whom are myrmecologists, ant specialists. It might sound hokey, but the film is crawling with charm, according to Dr. Hannibal.


- Number one, the music. It's spectacular music with crescendos of information. I like the noises made by the ants. Okay, they're not too accurate, but they are cool. And it does have a series of very accurate observations in it.


- [Mary] These accurate observations were in the spotlight at the Capitol Theatre last week as movie goers were treated to a special screening of the sci-fi film, along with a post-film chat with Dr. Hannibal.


- [Joe] They're called arthopleura--


- [Mary] It's part of the Reel Science Film series, a collaboration between the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Cleveland Cinemas.


- Reel Science is an attempt to engage the public with our curators who have knowledge about particular kinds of science that ties into movies.


- [Mary] And Dr. Hannibal's past study of giant prehistoric arthropods, a film that includes insects like ants, makes him uniquely qualified to uncover the real, and not so real, the science of them.


- Well, you might say that the ants are not the most accurately reproduced ants in the movie business. And in fact, well, they're kind of funny-looking ants. But heck, there's such big kernels of truth in the movie, it's amazing. Okay, there are no big ants like that, but there could be big arthropods like that, and there were in the past. There was an animal of about eight feet long. This is a giant arthropod. They may track waves in the sand and mud during the Coal Age, about 300 million years ago, and pieces, parts of them are found all over the place. A lot of my studies have been about fossil arthropods, and among these arthropods are rather large ones including supposed giant millipedes and even bigger giant millipedes. And in the movie, they actually replicated what I did in my particular study, and that is based up a part of an animal, they figured out how big the animal was in its entirety.


- Over 12 centimeters. 12!


- That would make the entire--


- About 2 1/2 meters in length. Over eight feet.


- So, that's plausible. And so, they really did their research.


- [Mary] Audience members at the Capitol screening were pleasantly surprised that the film received a stamp of approval from a bonafide giant bug expert.


- I thought it was pretty cool that the stuff in the movie was fairly accurate. And he was able to confirm that, which I thought was pretty neat.


- [Mary] But of course, there was also a healthy dose of skepticism.


- It's kind of hard to relate to giant ants in the desert when you live in Cleveland.